REVIEW: ‘Star Trek Beyond’ (2016)

Star Trek BeyondFinally!  A neo-Star Trek movie I can get behind.  I’ve made no bones about my contempt for what JJ Abrams did to my beloved Star Trek, turning the quasi-reboot into a common action franchise.  (And a rehash and bastardisation of what had come before—just like with Star Wars!)  Abrams is like a wedding singer: he knows the tunes, but has no drive, no feeling, no talent to create his own thing.  With Justin Lin at the helm, Star Trek Beyond still has the meat of a common action film, but now has the bones of the old Trek back.

Despite the title saying ‘review,’ this is really just a collection of thoughts and impressions that occurred to me while watching the movie; nothing formal.  CAUTION: There may be very minor spoilers ahead, but I don’t really discuss plot points that occur after about the first reel.  If you want a virgin Trek experience, come back later, but rest assured I don’t ruin anything.

Aside from a rocky opening, which looks like an afterthought and features an alien race that looks far too cartoony for my taste, the digital environments and creatures are top notch.  In fact, Star Trek Beyond has some of the most immersive environments I’ve seen since Avatar—and I say this having seen it in 2-D.  (I am, of course, morally opposed to 3-D.)  The Yorktown and Krall’s base looked realistic, meaning not too-obviously CGI, and all the ships seemed to have true mass and metal behind them.

One of my most common complaints about the TV series, and naturally this was principally due to the budget limitations of a television show, is that ships never blew up properly.  Consider ‘Cause and Effect,’ wherein the Enterprise-D finds itself in a time loop, and explodes repeatedly because of a miscalculation on Riker’s part.  It doesn’t look like a ship blowing up; it looks like a miniature with no guts blowing up.  In Star Trek Beyond, when they destroy Enterprise, you really believe it.  The machinery, the wiring, all the twisting pipes and furniture and computer banks…  Yeah, you see it all.  The best part is, it’s a slow death for the ship, so the more pieces that phasers and inertia wrench off, the more you feel the gravity of the situation.  So to speak.  It’s like Titanic in space.

Star Trek Beyond

The embarrassing and ridiculous marriage of motorcycle and music seen in the first trailer is actually handled with good humour and finesse.  ‘Is this classical music?’ is a great line.  The marketing team for the film should be shot!

The hand-to-hand combat scenes are fairly boringly choreographed, and seem edited together to hide the weaknesses of the footage.  This is all too typical of Western action movies—or maybe I’ve just been watching a string of amazing HK action flicks lately.  Or both.  However, I will say that Justin Lin stages all the action so that it’s comprehensible.  That is, you’re always aware of characters’ spatial relationships to each other, and everything seems to be happening in real space, and not some CGI wasteland with no laws of physics.  This is even true of a climactic fight in near zero-g.

Jaylah is everything that Rey from The Force Awakens should have been: smart plucky, resourceful, but also vulnerable and flawed.  You know, a good character.  It doesn’t hurt that Sofia Boutella has enormous talent and screen presence.  Actually, since the powers that be have already said that they won’t recast Chekov, I hope they bring Jaylah on board as a regular.  Her character has some great qualities that would mesh and contrast well with all of the main cast.

Speaking of the main cast, the ‘Gay Sulu’ hoopla has been wildly overblown. As I tweeted earlier, there is nothing on the screen in Star Trek Beyond to suggest that Sulu is gay.  It’s like the similar Gay Dumbledore fuss: just something someone says extra-textually.  Maybe there’ll be something in the next movie to confirm this, but as of now, Heterosexual Sulu is still canon.  (Brainstorm: make Jaylah gay.  You get a gay character, and don’t screw with canon!)

Star Trek Beyond

Finally, the story:  I loved Krall and his motivations.  His view of the universe is diametrically opposed to the Federation, and I dug that, action-packed as the film is, the main villain’s drive was philosophical.  It felt like the sort of thing that Star Trek: Voyager could have handled post-Kes.  Like I said, the bones of the real Trek/classic Trek/Universe Prime are here, and I hope it’s a direction the next film continues in.

So what we have here is a good, not great movie.  It’s not as character driven, introspective, and philosophical as the best of Star Trek, but it’s definitely an important step in the right direction.  I tweeted earlier that it was the best Trek film since First Contact twenty years ago, and so it is.  Here are the standings as of now:

  1. The Voyage Home
  2. First Contact
  3. The Undiscovered Country
  4. The Wrath of Khan
  5. The Motion Picture
  6. Beyond
  7. Generations
  8. The Search for Spock
  9. Insurrection
  10. Star Trek ‘09
  11. The Final Frontier
  12. Nemesis
  13. Into Darkness

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